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Pavarotti Hopes Music Can Help Heal Bosnia

Balkans: Tenor visits Mostar to inaugurate cultural center that he in large part financed.
The Los Angeles Times
MOSTAR, Bosnia-Herzegovina -- Gordan Kranjcic, a 20-year-old aspiring rock musician, says that plucking at an old guitar saved his sanity during the years he was captive in a wartime prison camp.

"It helped me escape a reality that was pretty cruel," the ponytailed youth said Sunday.

So Kranjcic watched in awe as one of the world's greatest operatic tenors, Luciano Pavarotti, joined him and a host of dignitaries and local residents amid the ruins of this war-shattered southern Bosnian city to inaugurate a super-expensive cultural center -- one designed to use music and therapy to nurture a new generation of Bosnian artists.

Struggling with a bad cold that forced him to cancel concerts last week, Pavarotti -- the center's main financial backer -- braved a fierce rainstorm to fly into Mostar, accompanied by Bono, lead singer of the Irish rock group U2, and others from the European entertainment scene.

After a quick tour of the city that included a stop at its 16th century Ottoman-era bridge, destroyed in the war, Maestro Pavarotti, as he was called, arrived at the center, its yellow Austro-Hungarian facade standing in contrast to the gray Muslim cemetery up the road. Inside, overlooking a central courtyard, Pavarotti was serenaded by a group of wide-eyed children, some so small they were clearly born during the war.

"Today we are here, you are singing, and you have touched my heart," the Italian virtuoso said.

The $5.6-million, 32,670-square-foot Pavarotti Music Centre, built on the ruins of an elementary school, will offer music workshops, a first-class recording studio, dance classes and, in a New Age twist, acupuncture, meditation and aromatherapy.

"My hope is to see all people coming here to make music together," Pavarotti said.

Music may soothe the fevered and brittle souls of Bosnians who survived a three-sided civil war that killed and wounded hundreds of thousands of people. But, for all the fanfare of Sunday's opening, music has not yet proved up to the task of overcoming ethnic differences in this divided city.

Mostar suffered through two wars: Muslims and Croats fought against Bosnian Serb nationalists backed by Yugoslavia, then turned on one another in an especially vicious door-to-door battle that ended in 1994 with U.S. mediation. Though joined formally in the Muslim-Croat Federation that rules half of Bosnia, Muslim and Croatian politicians remain at tense odds.

Pavarotti and the London-based charity that built and will run the center, War Child, chose to place the three-story complex on the eastern, Muslim side of Mostar -- to the apparent chagrin of Bosnian Croat officials on the western side. Sunday's inauguration was hailed as a major spectacle in mostly Muslim Sarajevo, the capital, but was virtually ignored in Croat-controlled parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

War Child Executive Director David Wilson said Pavarotti hoped to at least make an appearance in western Mostar, at the central Rondo plaza, but that Croatian officials refused Wilson's request that they take down six huge Bosnian Croat flags. The flags, for many people here, symbolize the kind of fervent nationalism that fed the war.

In the end, a group of children from the western side took part in the ceremony at the center. And Mostar's Bosnian Croat deputy mayor and the foreign minister, also a Croat, shared front-row seats with senior Muslim officials, including the prime minister of Bosnia.

Efforts to include Serbs were less successful, Wilson said. Organizers invited a youth choir from the Bosnian Serb city of Banja Luka, but Wilson said Bosnian Serb leaders would not allow the choir to come to Mostar.

"In what other country in the world would a choir have to ask permission from politicians to go to sing in another city in the same country? It's absurd," said Wilson, a former filmmaker. "Politicians should not have to give their permission for people to sing songs."

The new center has its critics, including people from rival aid agencies who contend that big money was spent on needlessly lavish features. Wilson estimated that the operating costs will exceed $500,000 a year.

But musician and producer Brian Eno, said: "Europe failed this country. The center is a small island of success in an ocean of failure."

© 1997 Los Angeles Times. All rights reserved.